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County Health Facilities To Screen For Families Who Are 'Food Insecure'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Cook County has launched a two-year program to try to better identify people who have trouble putting food on the table for their families and getting them help.

"Hunger is a solvable problem," said Kate Maehr, executive director of the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

The Food Depository has teamed up with the county to help provide nutritious food – particularly fresh produce – to families who do not have enough access to healthy food options.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said no community is immune from having people who don't know where they are getting their next meal.

"We have more than 760,000 people in Cook County who are food insecure; meaning they struggle to access the food they need for a healthy life," she said.

As part of the new Cook County Food Access Plan, patients at county health facilities will be given a brief survey to determine whether they're "food insecure."

"Do you run out of food at the end of the month? Do you have to make decisions about how much food you're buying?" Cook County Health and Hospitals System director Jay Shannon said.


Social service agencies will get involved to provide help to families in need, according to Shannon.

Last month, the county's Logan Square clinic became the first neighborhood clinic to utilize the food insecurity screening program. Shannon said he and others were "shocked to find, that more than 60 percent of the children that our pediatricians were seeing in that clinic screened to have problems for food insecurity."

Tanya Lee, who runs the Visions of Restoration food pantry in Maywood, said she sees a continuing need to help hungry people.

"It breaks my heart to hear families talk about that they have to make choices between purchasing medication and buying food," she said.

In addition to the new screening process at county health facilities, more suburban farmers will be encouraged to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program vouchers – food stamps – at farmers markets, and there will be push to provide more free school meals to needy suburban children.

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